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Thursday, September 7, 2000

Big Isle schools
running short
of principals

Officials also say training
hasn't kept up with the need
for vice principals and
other administrators

Buses inspected for faulty brakes
BOE committee approves plans

Stories By Crystal Kua


HELP WANTED: High school principal on the Big Island.

In the past, when the principal's position became available at Hilo High School, six or seven other principals would be ready to apply.

"That is no more," said Dan Sakai, Department of Education district superintendent.

"We don't have enough qualified people," said Herbert Watanabe, Board of Education member from the Big Island.

A shortage of public school principals, vice principals and other administrators expected to hit the state within the next few years has already struck the Big Island, big time. "I would say we are in a real dilemma," Watanabe said.

"We're the first district to experience a shortage of educational officers (in the Department of Education)," Sakai said.

Between 25 percent and 40 percent of the 43 schools on the Big Island have been affected by upheavals and vacancies associated with trying to find qualified principals and vice principals.

Changes in school leadership affect the school community. "They're adapting to a new school, new community, and the community is accepting the direction of a new principal," Sakai said.

Both Watanabe and Sakai said a major factor leading to the shortage on the Big Island has been that training of educational officers hasn't kept up with the need.

"If you want to fill 100 positions, you're going to have to train 200," Watanabe said.

To stave off a crisis statewide, state Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu has said he intends to seek funding for an administrator training program, one of four priorities in the next two-year department operating budget. That's because an estimated 65 percent of all public school principals and program administrators statewide will be eligible to retire in the next 10 years.

The Board of Education's Support Services Committee yesterday asked LeMahieu and his staff to brief it on the "big picture."

Committee Chairman Keith Sakata said he wanted to know what the department was doing about recruitment, retention, compensation and other issues connected with the expected shortage.

LeMahieu told board members that the problem is complicated.

"It's about recruitment, it's about identification, it's about selection, it's about preparation, it's about nurturing people into the role, it's about supporting them as they grow into the role, and it's about ongoing evaluations throughout their careers," LeMahieu said.

Sakai said other factors contribute to the shortage on the Big Island. The rural setting and remoteness of the island doesn't attract people from urban Oahu as it once did, he said. "They're not going to move from Mililani to here," Sakai said.

Also, many principals are retiring at a relatively young age -- in their 50s, department officials noted. "I can retire right now. I'm 57," Sakai said. In the case of the recently retired Hilo High School principal, he also retired in his 50s, Sakai said.

Now, finding a replacement is proving to be difficult. One of the two candidates pulled out of the running, while the other didn't meet the requirements.

"We don't really have anyone really taking it or going for it," Watanabe said.

Buses inspected
for faulty brakes

The brakes of eight school buses were inspected yesterday as part of a national manufacturer's recall of faulty brakes.

The recall affects buses with Bendix brakes manufactured in 1998 and after. Vehicles could lose braking for as long as four seconds when traveling at 20 mph or less.

The eight buses here are operated by Gomes School Bus Service of Oahu, which is the only contractor affected by the recall, the Department of Education said.

Gomes inspected the brakes in accordance with directions by bus manufacturer Blue Bird and will remove from service any bus with defective brakes, the department said.

Education officials said school buses have emergency brakes that can be used if regular brakes fail.

BOE committee
approves plans

A Board of Education committee has approved two separate plans on school construction priorities for the next six years.

The Support Services Committee, which passed the plans yesterday, previously approved two proposed biennium construction budgets -- one with a $45 million limit per year and the other with a $90 million limit per year.

But the committee sent the proposed budgets to the board for approval last month without approving the six-year plan, which was sent back to committee for that approval.

As with the budgets, the board also approved two six-year plans to coincide with the $45 million and $90 million scenarios in the proposed construction budgets.

The six-year plans and the budgets now go before the school board for approval.

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